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Men's Tennis Take on Top Teams, Loses

By Daniel Wang
Team Member
Swarthmore, Pa.

Last Friday morning, the men's tennis team flew to the Philadelphia area to play against two of the nation's top NCAA Division III teams. The players arrived with high hopes of pulling off an upset, but came up short, losing 54 to Swarthmore College and 90 to Trinity University (Texas).

The trip resulted in the team's first two losses to Division III teams this season, bringing its record to 36 for the season.

On Friday, the team took on Swarthmore, ranked 13th in the nation. After singles play, Swarthmore held a 42 lead. Jay Muelhoefer '94 continued his perfect spring campaign record at first singles, with a 62, 60 win over Barry Mook. However, the Garnet quickly put three points on the board, its players defeated Mauricio Lomelin '94 at second singles, Nick Tsai '94 at fourth singles, and Jason Weintraub '97 at fifth singles, all in straight sets.

Tsai sprained his left ankle during his match, which required an injury time-out, and ultimately affected his performance. The fifth singles matchup featured an interesting pairing, as Swarthmore player Chris Pearson outhit and outgunned Lomelin, 6-2, 6-1.

Two performances kept MIT in the hunt. Sixth singles player Dan Wang '97 came through with his first win of the spring, by outlasting Paul Purewal, 75, 63. In front of a large enthusiastic crowd, the third singles match of Mark Erickson '94 was the last one to finish. Erickson's serve-and-volley game helped him win big points, and even gave him some chances to take either of his sets. Unfortunately, his opponent proved to be slightly better, holding off Erickson, 75, 75.

MIT needed to sweep the doubles to capture the team win, but their chances did not look too bright. There seemed to be a chance when first doubles team of Muelhoefer and Tsai, and second doubles team of Erickson and Weintraub, both won their first sets rather easily.

The glimmer of hope was shattered when third doubles team of Lomelin and Wang, playing together for the first time, faltered against the team of Mook and Purewal. The duo failed to follow suit with their teammates, and were the first ones off the court, losing in straight sets, 61, 64.

MIT had struggled with both services and returns in the first set, which resulted in an easy first set for the Swarthmore team. Both Lomelin and Wang improved in the second set, but still fell behind, 52. The pair fought back to 54, but could not follow through on completing the difficult task of breaking Mook's serve.

The loss, which clinched the team victory for Swarthmore, seemed to subdue the excitement of the other doubles matches. The MIT players remaining were relegated to playing for themselves, and keeping the score close.

Muelhoefer and Tsai had some close moments in their match, but managed to win in straight sets, 63, 64. Despite his injury, and even injuring his other ankle to a lesser degree, Tsai managed to contribute. Erickson and Weintraub also had a chance to win in two sets, but their fired-up opponents went on a roll to capture the second set tiebreaker.

The MIT team rebounded and dominated the net to finish off the match. The 62, 67 (74), 63 match concluded with Erickson hitting an unreturnable overhead smash.

The next day, still sore from the previous day's effort, and fueled by only a small Burger King breakfast, the MIT team came back to the courts at Swarthmore College. This time, it competed against Trinity, ranked fifth in the nation among Division III schools. Although there were many excellently-played points, Trinity handed the Engineers a depressing 90 drubbing.

At the outset, MIT lost the services of Tsai, whose conditioned worsened over the evening. While this caused coach Jeff Hamilton to moved up his bottom three players one slot, Tsai's doubles skills were even more missed.

Almost all the singles players seemed to play below par, as they all lost in straight sets. Muelhoefer lost only his second of eight matches against Division III opponents this season, by a score of 61, 64. Muelhoefer's loss, one of his worst of the season, came at the hands of Trinity's regular number two player, as the top player sat out due to an illness.

Lomelin came off the court quickly, with a 60, 60 defeat. Erickson's tenacity allowed him to be the last one off the court again, but his opponent won the crucial points to win the match, 6-2, 6-4.

The freshmen, who played the entire bottom half of the lineup, all played some wonderful points, but could not do much better. Weintraub lost his match, 63, 61. Wang had some chances to go ahead, but could not convert, and ended up with a 62, 64 loss. Rob Marcato '97, filling in at sixth singles, displayed tough serve-and-volley play, but his opponent passed him enough times to hand a 61, 63 defeat.

The doubles play was slightly better but could not produce any points for the Engineers. Furthermore, although there were chances, MIT also failed to win a single set.

Marcato substituted with Tsai as Muelhoefer's partner, thereby pairing the two biggest members of the team. Unfortunately, they were unable to produce much out of it, as the Trinity opponents proved themselves stronger to add another point, 6-2, 7-6(7-1).

At second doubles, Erickson and Weintraub were unable to establish the dominance that they had in their last two matches. As a result, the two lost their first match against a Division III opponent, 6-4, 6-2.

The third doubles team finished with an identical score to the first doubles team. Once again, Lomelin and Wang started out in poor fashion, missing services, returns, and volleys. In the second set, though, the two picked up their level. Whenever the pair had a game point against them, Lomelin often swung at services to produce winners.

They took advantage of their opponent's weaknesses to lead, 65, but then lost the lead, and went into a tiebreaker. The Trinity team went ahead to a 30 lead, but Lomelin and Wang fought back. The breaker remained close, but the MIT pair needed to save a match point at 56. They managed to do so, then went on to own a set point 76, with Lomelin serving. A service return winner, then some putaway shots helped Trinty pull off the win, and the shutout.

Narrow win over Coast Guard

The winner of a best-of-nine matches intercollegiate tennis dual meet being decided by the last possible game of the very last set of the last individual match happens quite rarely. That was what happened last Tuesday as the Engineers pulled out a 54 nail-biter over the United States Coast Guard Academy. After a six-hour battle, MIT prevailed by the slimmest of margins.

The win was especially sweet for the MIT players, who avenged a loss to Coast Guard last year in the title match of the Constitution Athletic Conference Championships.

Rain forced the action to be moved inside to the J.B. Carr Indoor Tennis Center. A venue with four courts extended the duration of the meet, and increased the excitement.

The singles play provided much of the drama, as the two teams ended the first part of the match in a 33 deadlock. Lomelin and Tsai fought hard, but were defeated in straight sets. Wang, playing sixth singles, won his first set against Tim Haws, 63, but lost the second set, 64, and fell behind, 52. He fought his way back to 54, but gave away the match by double faulting the last two points.

The points for MIT did not come as easily. Muelhoefer struggled early on against Tony Cella, and lost the first set, 63. However, he persisted in his attacking game, and pulled out the last two sets, and the match, by a score of 75, 76 (72).

Erickson, who attacked in a similar fashion, raised the level of his game, and defeated Tom Cooper, 75, 36, 63. Weintraub, at fifth singles, lost his first set, but then used his steady baseline play to capture the victory, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

With the score at 33, whichever team won the majority of the doubles matches would be the winner of the entire dual meet. Things initially did not look too good for the Engineers.

The first pair off the court were the third doubles team of Lomelin and Marcato, who were overpowered and dropped the abbreviated match, 82. On the next court, Erickson and Weintraub were off to a slow start, dropping the first set to Cella and Haws, 60.

The top team of Muelhoefer and Tsai did not begin any better, losing their first set, 63. They took to the court against a familiar foe, the pair of brothers Dave and Tom Cooper, in a rematch of the finals of the Rolex New England Small College Tennis Championships, which took place almost exactly six months before. At that match, Tsai made a miraculous save with a championship point against him and Muelhoefer, to allow them to rebound and emerge victorious.

While a total replay did not happen, the match was still exciting, featuring many well-played rallies. The MIT pair regrouped and stormed to a 41 lead in the second set, before taking the set, 64.

In the final set, Muelhoefer and Tsai dominated the front court and ran a 52 lead. In what looked like what would be an easy win, the duo squandered four games in a row. During that stretch included a rare break of Muelhoefer's service, which even included a match point.

The MIT pair then found themselves behind 65, and even fought off a match point before forcing a final-set tiebreaker. They strung together a 41 lead before the Cooper's won two consecutive points to make the score 43. Although that point in time made watching the match stressful for MIT supporters, Muelhoefer and Tsai delivered by winning four points in a row. On match point, Tsai, who had been struggling all day with his service returns, responded with a lob deep in the court, which neither of the Coast Guard opponents could return.

A similar turn-around happened with the second doubles team. Erickson and Weintraub caught fire in the second set and attacked almost every ball that crossed the net. The result was a 63 second set win. The third set showcase some intense rallies, but the overall tone set, was the servers dominating the points, on both sides. Both teams traded games, bringing the fate of the team to a tiebreaker.

Despite nervously watching, teammates on both sides cheered hard to support members on the court. The cheering started out in favor of Coast Guard, for their doubles team lead 64 in the tiebreaker, with two opportunities to seal off the match.

However, the MIT pair showed mental toughness by winning four points in a row. An inspired Erickson put away the balls that the Coast Guard team was luckily to hit over the net. After Cella's lob on match point landed long, the whole MIT team scrambled onto the court to congratulate the two.

On the match, Hamilton said, "It rates with one of the best comebacks ever." He was impressed with his players' mental toughness, shown by winning five of six three-set matches, and all of the tiebreakers. "It was coming through in the clutch," Hamilton added. Weintraub, who help clinch the win, said, "It felt good to win one for the team."

The two matches began a road trip which spans a little more than a week. Today, the team will take on rival Tufts University, who it beat 54 last year. The netmen will then travel to Connecticut College on Thursday, participate in Constitution Athletic Conference Championships on Saturday, then finally matchup with Williams College, on Sunday. The Engineers will then play its next home match, against Brandeis University on April 20.